This article was written by Kate Smith with support from Table XI.
Medical software design has grown up, moved out, and left the clinic behind. With the application of new technology, innovative software products are shifting our healthcare experience from the traditional episodic doctor-in-clinic context to one where healthcare is an omnipresent part of our everyday lives. Our healthcare interactions now include a breadth of new experiences like smartphone apps, connected devices, retail interactions, home health delivery kits and telehealth video conferencing. Patients have come to expect that healthcare will meet them in their homes and on their phones. Now, more than ever, software design for medical devices must focus on the patient experience in the context of everyday life.
Diabetes management: weaving medical products into everyday life
Recent innovation in diabetes management is a great example of how the software operating medical products should be designed to fit seamlessly into everyday life. Historically, the care protocol for a Type I or Type II insulin dependent diabetic was intense. It required frequent manual blood glucose monitoring, food and exercise tracking and self-injections of insulin. The daily task list for a patient was time consuming and disruptive. The daily mental load was draining. The consequences of mismanagement are deadly. Companies like Sensyne, Tandem and Glooko have released new products in the last few years that streamline the patient experience and deliver better outcomes.
Automated glucose monitoring: Blood glucose levels used to be monitored using several manual test strip readings per day. They can now be monitored continuously through a slim smart patch worn on the patient’s arm. The patch sends readings wirelessly to an app on the patient’s smartphone. These are known as continuous glucose monitors and are now available in several models from leading manufacturers like Medtronic, Dexcom and Abbott.
Smart insulin personalization: Patients used to manually calculate insulin dosing and self-administer as needed through injection. Now, their smartphone application analyzes data from the smartpatch to recommend adjustments to insulin dosage. This data is sent to an insulin pump worn discreetly under the patient’s clothing and insulin is released as needed.
Digital care team integration: Patients used to have to log and report a record of daily blood glucose levels to their doctors. Now, data from the smart patch and the insulin pump can be integrated and shared with the patient’s care team automatically. This data provides valuable insights for prescription adjustments and longitudinal tracking. Smartphone applications like MiniMed Connect by Medtronic even have real-time notifications to alert both the patient and care team members when immediate intervention is necessary.
Innovation in this product space has revolutionized daily life for diabetes patients. The user-focused design of these products works alongside the patient stepping in to automate, integrate and personalize whenever possible. This seamless experience helps patients consistently comply with their care plans and frees their mental energy to focus on the other more difficult lifestyle changes that can’t be automated. The result is better managed diabetes and healthier patients.
Medical devices need great software design for all health conditions
Unfortunately, good medical software design does not scale well into other conditions and treatment plans. What works well in the daily life of a diabetic likely does not apply for a patient managing hypertension. Each health condition has a unique care protocol and context in which that protocol weaves into a patient’s life. Unlike the daily task list for a diabetic, proper hypertension management requires sustained changes to lifestyle habits like diet, physical activity and stress management over time. The medical software for this job looks quite different.
The good news for medical software designers is that while you can rarely repurpose solutions, you can most certainly re-apply user-centered design principles as a consistent method to create effective medical products for any condition. Design frameworks like the double diamond method use convergent and divergent design tracks to connect products to user needs and everyday life. The specific details vary for each condition, but the end result of a design process is software that puts the patient’s life in perspective and ultimately makes for happier, healthier patients.
3 trends to watch in software designed for medical devices
The primary goal of digital health solutions are to improve health outcomes. Improved outcomes for some of the most prevalent and costly conditions like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer are largely a function of behavioral factors. Research estimates that up to 60-80% of our health is based on behavioral choices like nutrition, exercise, stress management and medication adherence. For a digital health product to deliver on improved health outcomes, it needs to succeed at influencing behavior change.
Unfortunately, behavior change is just plain hard for all of us. Even highly motivated patients often fall short of their goals. For patients with the cards stacked against them — comorbidities, low access to services or low health literacy — it is very difficult, if not impossible to keep up with all that is required to manage their health.
Digital health solutions with a focus on when, where and how patients navigate healthy choices in the context of daily life will hit on key trends that, together, support behavior change and drive health outcomes:
Trend #1 Integration: time and mental energy set free
Integration removes barriers. At a minimum, integration makes life easier so that patients and clinicians can focus on other more meaningful tasks. Common examples include pre-filled form fields or syncing of logged data like a weight measurement from a bluetooth scale.
Additionally, integration can align data that are more valuable once combined. A good example of this is when data from an activity tracker like a Fitbit integrates with data from a nutrition tracker like MyFitnessPal. Combined, the two data sets can calculate net daily calorie intake for users working towards weight loss goals.
Medical software that is designed to integrate other health data whenever possible goes a long way to streamline workflows for patients and clinicians. The time and mental energy a patient diverts to data entry can be more potent when it is conserved to focus only on behavior change.
Trend #2 Automation: a ToDo list guarantee
Automation does the work that needs to be done without being asked. There are familiar examples of automation like digital alerts, reminders, and notifications that all work behind the scenes to make life easier. But there are also newer automations like medical supply re-ordering, prescription adjustments or appointment scheduling that execute more complex tasks without human initiation.
Automated tasks not only save time — they also promote patient adherence to their treatment plan, which is a critical indicator in influencing and predicting success of a care protocol. When interviewed, patients often give reasons like “I forgot”, “I didn’t realize” or “it just isn’t part of my regular routine” when asked why they skip important parts of their care plan. Automating a task is a great way to make sure it actually gets done. Any time a task can be defined in terms of a checklist or parameters, there is an opportunity for software to automate it and improve both usability and outcome metrics.
Trend #3 Personalization: a better fit is worn often
A stumbling point for automation is often that a one size fits all approach limits patient experience. Personalization can pick up the slack by applying data about a specific individual to make a custom recommendation. Personalization can make a patient feel seen and understood as an individual as they navigate their care, for example, by providing local resource suggestions, meal plans responsive to dietary restrictions or age appropriate rehab exercises. Just like a tailored outfit, patients routinely reach for a personalized solution because it wears well. Once worn, a solution’s influence on goals like behavior change can be slipped into the jacket pocket.
Personalization can also directly impact better outcomes. Precision medicine companies like Tempus use genetic data and artificial intelligence to help physicians create the care protocol that will be most effective for a specific patient. These personalized care plans have been shown to have better results.
As digital health solutions continue to evolve, these trends will remain in focus as 3 ways to support behavior change and drive health outcomes. Innovation, however, does not stop here. As solutions evolve we will see new and more creative features within these themes that integrate, automate and personalized in ways we cannot even imagine today.